Inhaling sulphur, sulphate, copper, iron, nickel and zinc through
PM2.5 can trigger maternal oxidative stress and affect the growth of
Photo: Sayantoni Palchoudhuri
A new study conducted in Europe has found that maternal exposure to
particulate matter (PM) constituents such as sulphur and secondary
combustion particles may adversely affect birth weight and head
circumference of newborns. LBW (birth weight less than 2.5 kg) is a
predictor of infant morbidity and mortality.
A mere 200 nanogramme per cubic metre-increase in sulphur in PM2.5 is
found to be associated with an increased risk of low birth weight
(LBW). Nickel and zinc in PM2.5 concentrations were also associated with
The study—Elemental Constituents of Particulate Matter and Newborn’s Size in Eight European Cohorts—published
in Environmental Health Perspective examined the associations of eight
elemental constituents in PM2.5 and PM10. It assessed data of 34,923
births during 1994 to 2008 in Europe and estimated the annual average
concentrations of eight constituents of PM2.5 and PM10 including copper,
iron, potassium, nickel, sulphur, silicon, vanadium and zinc at
maternal homes in different parts of Europe during pregnancy.
It was found that exposure to specific constituents of PM2.5,
especially traffic-related particles, sulphur constituents, and metals
was associated with decreased birth weight. Inhalation of PM can trigger
maternal oxidative stress, damage cells, cause inflammation and changes
in the blood system, decrease placental blood flow, disrupt
transplacental oxygenation, leading to poor growth of the foetus.
The study also found that all the elemental components, with the
exception of potassium, were significantly associated with smaller head
circumference in newborns. Head circumference is associated with
cognitive ability and child intellectual quotient.
The study was led by scientists from Centre for Research in
Environmental Epidemiology, Barcelona, Spain, and jointly carried out by
several research institutions.
In India, it is often stated that PM from crustal sources (such as
dust) is largely responsible for poor air quality in cities like Delhi.
But emerging evidence, such as the findings of this study, makes it
imperative for regulators to also look into the effects of tinier toxic
constituents of combustion sources in PM